For a large section of the Resident Evil fanbase, 1998’s Resident Evil 2 is the best the franchise has ever been- as a remake of a game with such a strong legacy, expectations from this new rendition of Resident Evil 2 have been monumentally high. Impossibly, it manages to not only meet those expectations, but surpass them, and does so in the best way possible. This is a franchise that has re-invented itself time and again over the course of more than two decades, but Resident Evil 2 feels like the best of all worlds. This is the 1998 classic, reimagined with the over the shoulder perspective of Resident Evil 4, and evoking Resident Evil 7 in tone and atmosphere, brought to life by the excellent RE Engine- no matter which style of Resident Evil games you prefer, there’s something here that will surely appeal to you.
It’s also a game that has equal appeal to the two kinds of people who’ll be playing it- those who have played the original Resident Evil 2, and those who haven’t. From the get go, one of the game’s most impressive feats is just how ambitious it is as a remake. Ever since the game’s reveal, Capcom have been adamant that this isn’t a straight remake of Resident Evil 2 as much as it a re-imagining, and that rings very true throughout the entirety of the experience. Things have been added, changed around, and removed, to the point where, at times, it almost feels like a new entry in the franchise, rather than a remake of one that came out over twenty years ago. While doing so, however, it also makes sure to not deviate too much, so that it still very much feels like Resident Evil 2– but for a modern age.
"This is the 1998 classic, reimagined with the over the shoulder perspective of Resident Evil 4, and evoking Resident Evil 7 in tone and atmosphere, brought to life by the excellent RE Engine- no matter which style of Resident Evil games you prefer, there’s something here that will surely appeal to you."
The biggest change it makes is, of course, to the camera. While the original Resident Evil 2 was played with fixed cameras and tank controls, the remake is played from a third person over-the-shoulder perspective in vein of Resident Evil 4– and it’s surprising just how well it manages to translate the experience to a completely different way of playing. A lot of that boils down to how aiming works in the game, which has elements of similar mechanics from all games in the series, but collectively works as something new. Unlike in Resident Evil 4 and 5, you can move around while you’re aiming, but doing so severely reduces your accuracy, resulting in a sudden and quite significant bloom of the reticle. Once you stand still, the reticle slowly contracts, which means that your accuracy is at its highest when you’re stationary, or moving very slowly.
Thanks to this, Resident Evil 2 manages to retain the slow, methodical shooting and gameplay that defined the fixed camera-era of the series. Reconciling the urge to keep your distance from zombies with the need to stay still in order to maximize damage injects an incredible amount of tension into every single encounter. The enemies you come across are also all too happy to keep moving around – rather than acting as target practice – and don’t go down too easily either – with even the weakest zombies usually requiring two to three headshots to go down. Coming up against more than a single zombie at a time is always an ordeal, and even the simplest, most routine of encounters can feel like a challenge. Wasting your healing items or ammunition is also a sureshot way of getting yourself killed – in the long run, if not in the immediate moment – since the game doesn’t hand out resources too freely (but is never unfairly strict with their distribution either).
There are also times when enemies can attack you unexpectedly. A shambling zombie on a ledge above you might tip over and fall to the ground right in front of you, or might manage to break out of a cage or into a room where you thought you were out of their reach. Up close, when you stab zombies with your knife, the knife remains buried in their flesh, and you have to retrieve it from their corpse manually, leaving you defenceless in close quarters situations until you do so, while the knives themselves are also breakable, and don’t last too long. Once they’ve been downed, there’s also no guarantee that zombies will stay that way, and every once in a while one of them might shamble back to their feet again. They can also break into rooms through windows, which not only means that you have to barricade them with wooden planks you might find lying around, but also that returning to rooms you thought you had cleared earlier is never a prospect completely free of danger. In Resident Evil 2, you almost never feel safe.
"In Resident Evil 2, you almost never feel safe."
All of that is exacerbated by the game’s strong, intense atmosphere, with a pervasive sense of constant dread and danger defining almost every moment of the experience. Just like in the original Resident Evil 2, most of the locations you find yourself in are designed as tight, claustrophobic corridors, which are almost always completely devoid of any light except for the single beam that your flashlight emits. The darkness always feels suffocating- except for some areas, you can only see the things your flashlight illuminates, so that you’re never quite sure what’s in the distance, or in your periphery, or around the next corner. It spectacularly achieves the affect of making you feel like the walls are closing in on you, and every step that you take feels wrought with tension and dread.
The game’s incredible audio design is also hugely responsible for that feeling of constant dread, and that foreboding atmosphere. In the ringing silence of the havoc-stricken and claustrophobic surroundings that you traverse, your steps sound dangerously loud, while environmental sounds, such as the creaking of floorboards, or the groaning of door hinges, or the flickering of lights, contribute to the eerie atmosphere as well. Distant echoes of the moans and howls of enemies alert you to their presence, and always keep you on the tenterhooks, waiting for the next encounter just around the corner. Audio design is incredibly important in Resident Evil 2, and it is perhaps one of the game’s strongest, most impressive aspects.
Not too far behind is the level design. Like the original Resident Evil 2 (and many other Resident Evil titles), the metroidvania-esque quality of levels that loop back on each other, and intertwine in and out of each other, makes every location you visit a joy to explore. Perhaps “joy” isn’t quite the right word, given the grim atmosphere that persists throughout the game- but you’re encouraged to explore every nook and cranny, and doing so always feels rewarding. Finding a tool or an item that you needed to access previously blocked areas, or chancing across weapons, ammunition, or resources, is always a rewarding payoff to exploring your surroundings. Resident Evil 2 also makes sure that none of it ever feels too familiar to those who’ve played the original game- new areas, slightly altered layouts, or items being found in different locations are just a few examples of how the game keeps even returning players on their toes. Puzzle solving is also tied with exploration intrinsically, and more often than not revolves around you combing through the environments in order to find the item that that puzzle requires. These puzzles are never too elaborate, but their simple and solid design does a great job of keeping you engaged.
"Resident Evil 2 spectacularly achieves the affect of making you feel like the walls are closing in on you, and every step that you take feels wrought with tension and dread. "
Resident Evil 2 also provides plenty of replay value. Both Claire and Leon have their own campaigns, of course, and collectively, they can take roughly 15 hours to finish. Depending on which campaign you finish first, the way the story pans out for the second character changes quite a bit as compared to if you’d played with them first. This provides more than enough incentive to play through the campaigns once again in reverse order, to see how situations, events, meetings, and interactions would play out in alternate scenarios. Though there is some overlap across campaigns, enough things are switched around and altered to keep things from getting too repetitive. The fact that the game’s pacing is spot on and never sticks to a location or a narrative thread longer than it needs to also helps to keep things moving.
The larger story told across Resident Evil 2’s campaigns isn’t anything to write home about, but is thankfully elevated by great characters and writing. Owing to its very nature, Resident Evil 2 focuses on a small cast of core characters, but all of them instantly come across as well-defined personalities, and are brought to life through smart, tight writing, excellent voice acting, and some seriously impressive motion and facial capture performances. As such, though the tale spun by Resident Evil 2 isn’t exactly anything special, it does succeed in keeping you invested in what’s going on in the moment, even if you’re not too invested in the larger narrative. It also changes quite a few things from the original Resident Evil 2, at times quite significantly, so returning fans will also be in for a refreshing experience.
One of Resident Evil 2’s most impressive qualities, however, is just how much of a technical achievement it is. In simple terms, this is one of the best looking games ever made. Powered by the excellent RE Engine, the game showcases a level of polish and immaculate detail in every nook and cranny that is currently matched by very few other games out there. From the lighting, to the facial models and animations, to how the zombie themselves animate and react differently to situations, to how much detail Capcom have crammed into everything you see, Resident Evil 2 impresses with its visuals constantly and consistently. Shooting zombies in the head with the shotgun results in glorious explosions of guts and gore, the way they move and behave changes depending on where they’ve been hit, decapitated corpses proudly display ridiculously detailed entrails and innards. Some aliasing issues crop up every now and then, which makes it look like some distant textures or objects are flickering, but this isn’t that frequent (and even less so on more powerful hardware).
"One of Resident Evil 2’s most impressive qualities is just how much of a technical achievement it is. In simple terms, this is one of the best looking games ever made."
In many ways, Resident Evil 2 feels like a culmination of the franchise, like a collation of everything it has done well even as it has kept changing its identity over the years. It feels like a worthy modernization and re-imagining of one of the best survival horror games of all time, one that is surely bound to please veteran fans, but also feels like a game that can serve as the perfect jumping-on point for the uninitiated. It takes the strengths of the series’ three distinct eras up until now, and manages to make them all work together in perfect conjunction. Resident Evil 2 is not only an accomplished remake that should serve as the blueprint for how to re-imagine beloved classics, but is an incredible game in its own right- so much so, that it might even stand as one of the very best games this venerated and decorated franchise has delivered to date.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Claustrophobic, intense horror; Incredibly atmospheric, constantly keeps you on your toes; Translates the original's fixed camera and tank controls-centric gameplay to an over the shoulder perspective perfectly; Solid level design encourages and rewards thorough exploration; Very challenging; Loads of replay value; Incredible audio design that adds to the foreboding atmosphere immensely; Smart writing and excellent voice acting; Well-developed cast of characters that keeps you invested in the narrative; Impressive facial and motion capture; Ridiculous attention to detail and strong technical achievements make it one of the best looking games to date.
Minor aliasing issues.